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Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne: What It Can and Cannot Do

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When it comes to treating acne, benzoyl peroxide is a genie in a bottle, no wonder it’s a derms’ favorite. For sure, benzoyl peroxide is just one of many options available for helping clear acne, along with salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and retinol. A powerful agent, benzoyl peroxide is full of benefits that make it a must in any routine of someone who’s fighting breakouts. But does benzoyl peroxide tackles all types of acne? Keep reading and find out if benzoyl peroxide is the one for your type of breakouts.

What is benzoyl peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient derived from hydrogen peroxide that works as an antiseptic, keratolytic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial agent.[1] You can find benzoyl peroxide in OTC products, like cleansers, gels, and spot treatments that target pimples healing, but also in higher strengths in products that only a dermatologist can prescribe.

Benzoyl peroxide for treating acne

First upfront, benzoyl peroxide kills the acne-causing bacteria, minimizing the chances of new breakouts appearing. As a drying ingredient, benzoyl peroxide speeds up pimples healing, while also balancing sebum, hindering it from clogging pores. Further, benzoyl peroxide reduces redness and swelling linked to inflammatory pimples. The comedolytic properties of benzoyl peroxide increase cell turnover with desquamation, meaning it lifts the superficial layer of the skin, renewing it.[2]

Let’s now see what type of acne benzoyl peroxide tackles.

Inflammatory acne

The anti-inflammatory benefits of benzoyl peroxide make it great at treating inflammatory acne. I’m sure you’re no stranger to those red bumps that contain pus and sometimes hurt. Welp, benzoyl peroxide diminishes inflammation and speeds up their healing by helping pores shed dead cells and excess sebum. As a note, benzoyl peroxide is a better choice for inflammatory pimples than for whiteheads and blackheads.

Cystic acne

If you’re battling cystic breakouts, you know you’re dealing with the most severe form of acne. Characterized by painful, hard bumps below the skin’s surface filled with pus, cystic acne is also inflammatory. And since P. acnes bacteria is a major contributor to cystic acne, benzoyl peroxide gets the job done by killing bacteria and speeding up healing.

However, at this point, you might need a prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide product. So, for the best, go and see a derm.

The side effects

Without a doubt, benzoyl peroxide is a drying ingredient. So, what you could experience is dry, red, or peeling skin. To help counteract any of these side effects, add to your routine ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalane, and reparatory ceramides and peptides.

How to use benzoyl peroxide

How you use benzoyl peroxide depends on the product at hand. If used in a cleanser, or toner, it can be used daily as the concentration shouldn’t be high enough to cause any irritation. But if you’re using a spot treatment, a gel, or cream, with a higher concentration, start using it on alternate days and notice how your skin reacts to it.

For the best, use your benzoyl peroxide product at night as it may make skin photosensitive. And never skip sunscreen!

What percentage of benzoyl peroxide is best?

Benzoyl peroxide comes in strengths varying from 2.5 to 10%. But a higher concentration doesn’t necessarily mean better results. It seems that 2.5 or 5% benzoyl peroxide often works just as well as 10%, but with fewer irritations.[3] The takeaway? Always start with a low concentrated product and gradually work your way up to help your skin build tolerance.

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2022). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 7187, Benzoyl peroxide. Retrieved March 21, 2022. Source
  2. John J. Russell, M.D., Abington Memorial Hospital, Abington, Pennsylvania, Topical Therapy for Acne, Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jan 15;61(2):357-365. Source
  3. Mills OH Jr, Kligman AM, Pochi P, Comite H. Comparing 2.5%, 5%, and 10% benzoyl peroxide on inflammatory acne vulgaris. Int J Dermatol. 1986 Dec;25(10):664-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4362.1986.tb04534.x. PMID: 2948929. Source
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